FIFA rule change means Hearts face a six-figure fee for Walsall's Elijah Adebayo - even if he signs as a free agent in summer
A change in FIFA's transfer laws means any club recruiting the 23-year-old before the end of 2021 will be liable for a development fee of more than £100,000.
Adebayo's contract expires in June and Hearts are keen to sign him despite Walsall rejecting their initial approach. The Edinburgh club would like a quick deal this month but have not ruled out waiting until he is out of contract.
However, training compensation amounting to six figures would still be due even though the 6ft 4in forward has passed his 23rd birthday.
FIFA changed rules on player transfers this month and development fees are now applicable until the end of the calendar year in which a player turns 23.
Previously, compensation would only be required up until the end of the season in which a player reached 23.
Adebayo celebrated his birthday on January 7, so the development fee attached to him applies until the end of 2021.
That means Hearts would need to agree a cash transfer deal for him before the winter window closes or pay a six-figure sum if they sign him when his Walsall contract expires.
Most of the compensation money would be due to former club Fulham, where the player spent three years as a professional before joining Walsall in 2019.
Article 20 of FIFA's regulations on the status and transfer of players states: “Training compensation shall be paid to a player’s training club(s): (1) when a player is registered for the first time as a professional, and (2) each time a professional is transferred until the end of the calendar year of his 23rd birthday.
“The obligation to pay training compensation arises whether the transfer takes place during or at the end of the player’s contract.”
The new rule will affect all clubs aiming to sign out-of-contract players who turn 23 this year.
Hearts are in the market for a striker this month and approached Walsall in an attempt to sign Adebayo. The English League Two side are reluctant to let him leave during the current window.